SUBJECTS: AIHW Report Card on the State of Welfare of Australians; Mandatory drug testing of welfare recipients; Cashless welfare card.

LINDA BURNEY, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FAMILIES AND SOCIAL SERVICES, SHADOW MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS, MEMBER FOR BARTON: Well the key messages are that there is a very difficult future in Australia for young people. This report reflects that there’s a great deal of loneliness. We also see young people very anxious about being able to purchase a home, particularly in capital cities. And I think the issue that jumps out at me is we are hitting the lowest number of apprenticeships ever in this country. And that to me for young people is a very anxious future. Insecure work of course is another very big message out of this report.

SABRA LANE: It’s not all bad news, year 12 attainment’s up. The number of people with jobs is up. Civic engagement is up. They’re all positive things.

BURNEY: It’s not all bad news. But I think we need to look at what sits behind this report. And what sits behind this report are indicators of wellbeing. And I think it was Ken Henry that said as much as yesterday that Australia is really lagging behind in terms of really solid policy development. Governments need to use this report as a way forward. But we need to look at what sits behind these indicators to understand what is really going on.

LANE: You touched on loneliness. At least 50 per cent of us report being lonely at least once a week. Does that worry you?

BURNEY: It worries me particularly for older men and also young people. The issue of loneliness is becoming something that’s pervasive in Australian society. And you talk to service providers who are often the only people that someone that’s in a wheelchair or someone that’s perhaps having a carer – that’s their only human contact all week. And when you think about that, you think about your own life, you just wonder how people would actually cope with that, that you’ve got one person a week coming in to cook meals or clean. And that’s your only human contact.

LANE: The UK has a loneliness minister. Should we have something like that?

BURNEY: I’m not saying that we should have a loneliness minister but it needs to be very much and it is very much of course on the forefront of minds of people that I work with in terms of the Labor Party. But it also seems to me that this report indicates – and it does have a section on Indigenous Australians – I’ve just spent two weeks or a week and a half travelling through some really remote communities Sabra, and the poverty is – it’s indescribable. I mean, most of those communities – every single community in fact that we went to – said their big issue was not having clean water. Now how can we in this nation be a country, a first world nation like Australia, have communities with no clean water and no access to secondary schools?

LANE: Housing affordability is a big challenge. Labor’s solutions to that – the negative gearing and capital gains tax changes weren’t embraced by the majority at the last election. Are those policies still the answer to affordability?

BURNEY: As you’ve known, you’ve reported there is a review taking place of all the policies and the processes that we took to the election –

LANE: - do you have a view?

BURNEY: I think that the obvious thing is for Labor to clearly look at the response to those particular policies. I will let the review make those recommendations before offering one of my own.

LANE: I’ve just got to quickly get through some issues. The Government will reintroduce its drug testing for welfare recipients bill today in the Parliament. Are there any circumstances under which Labor will support that policy?

BURNEY: Labor is not supporting that policy. This is the third time the Government has dusted off this policy and I just heard on Radio National there is a group of people meeting experts meeting in Canberra today. They are saying this is punitive. It’s not going to work. And the biggest issue is that there is just not enough treatment centres or treatment available for people that want to come off drug addiction. And that is where the government needs to focus.

LANE: The cashless welfare card. The Government wants to roll this out nationally. 80 per cent of money is quarantined in that for rent and food. The Government says it works. Has the Labor Party got a position on that yet?

BURNEY: The Labor Party does have a position. We’ve had a position for some time on the cashless welfare card. And that is that if a community has proper consultation and proper consent, and the community wants the card then Labor would not stand in the way. But we do not support a national roll out of this card. It goes to whether or not it’s effective. And I have to say Sabra, just in closing, that the evaluations so far have been quite inadequate and there needs to be proper evaluation, and Labor has a very strong view and a very persistent view on this particular card.

LANE: Linda Burney, thanks for joining AM this morning.